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Teen review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Hey! I’m Goda, a high school junior who loves photography and, of course, reading. I also enjoy acoustic music, and I hope my insights help you find your next favorite book!

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Although the title of this novel had me singing The Fray on the car ride home, this book was a surprisingly good find. The basis of the story revolves around Jill MacSweeny, a sixteen year old girl whose life crumbles around her when her father dies. In what Jill believes to be an act of grief, her mother decides to adopt a baby through an online no-paperwork agreement from a simple nineteen year old girl from Omaha. The girl, Mandy, comes to live with Jill and her mother, and the story goes from there.

Throughout the novel, Jill is learning to face her grief and allow her friends, and boyfriend, back into her life. While struggling with that, she also has to adjust to a new addition to the household, Mandy, someone she doesn’t really want anything to do with. On the other hand, Mandy is basking in the love she finds at the MacSweeny household, while at the same time learning to deal with her pregnancy. I was surprised at how well the author developed Mandy’s character- I felt like I knew her by the end of the book.  There’s really a lot going on, but Sara Zerr knows how to fit it in and make it work. She creates an exciting page-turner instead of a overwhelming clump of plot lines.

The novel is written in opposing viewpoints, with Jill and Mandy narrating alternative chapters. Although I’m not usually a fan of that style of writing, it somehow worked in this novel. I was expecting a mainstream teen novel, and although certain elements were present, this book was a unique story whose ending was a surprise, at least to me. What I was not expecting however, was the hilarious quirkiness of Mandy’s insights and the way this story drew me in; I was hooked. I laughed, I cried, I was done in two days. Overall, this book was an emotional page turner that was both heartwarming and exciting. Two thumbs up.

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